Sunday, October 19, 2008
I haven't updated my blogroll for over a year now and I know there are lots more wonderful Melbourne Food blogs around these days. So, if you would like your Melbourne food blog to be added to my blogroll, please just leave your details and blog address in a comment on this post and I'll add you to my links.
Also, if you're an international blog and have linked to my page, also let me know and I'll add you too!
The Breakfast Club cafe on busy St George's Rd is small. Very small. There's barely room to stretch out your legs, but there's just enough room for my tummy to expand after eating their yummy food. The music is grungey rock, the coffee machine is making itself heard, the ordering is done at the counter. Although, the place is so small you could just tell the girl behind the counter from your seat what you're after.
No printed menus. I hate this. So annoying. Everyone seems to be doing it these days. Is it an effort to become environmentally concious, cool, or just cutting costs? Lucky me, chose a seat directly under the blackboard, so i almost had to lie horizontally backwards to read it.
The menu is quirky, some other items that looked interesting was the Bananarama - banana, cream cheese, cinnamon and honey on sourdough toast and Nutella if you like. There was also the Ringwald, a brie and quince paste melt with basil on sourdough toast. Yummy
I ordered the Bircher Muesli- Oats, thick yoghurt, grated granny smith, toasted coconut, hazlenuts all drizzled with sweet honey. Just the thing I needed after my morning run.
The English Breakfast tea, comes served in an old fashioned tea pot complete with Nanna's tea cosy. While tea cosy's are cute - it's slightly embarressing for a single guy, flying solo for breakfast, drinks his tea with a lovely tea cosy.
Friday, October 17, 2008
A frustrated morning of wandering to and from my favourite Fitzroy cafes only to find they're full and there's a wait on a table. I was flying solo that morning and still couldn't find a seat. It was the day after Grand Final day and I had left it too late to go out for breakfast. If you go out, usually before 10am, usually you can avoid the tourists from the 'burbs and get a table. Then I remembered a place a friend recommended to me, just off Brunswick St, in a new trendy apartment block. The cafe is called Shire.
It was the day after Grand Final day and the place was full of hungover trendies, looking a little worse for wear, telling tales of Grand Final night drunkeness. But Shire didn't disappoint. They have chairs and tables in nooks all over the place, so a table for one it was. The room is suprisingly spacious and cosy at the same time.
The breakfast menu is large- spanning two pages. Organic sourdough, free range googies, omlettes and muesli all look attractive. However, I think most of the people already there were ordering the greasiest breakfast they could find.
I went with boring, old eggs benedict (12.90). Only it wasn't boring. Well, it was your standard eggs benedict, but it was delicious! My only problem with it, was that there was a slight taste of vinegar - I'm not sure if this was the eggs - from the poaching liquid (in case you don't know, vinegar helps the whites set nicely), but it could also have been in the sauce. But I'm probably being a bit picky here. It really was tasty. I usually don't order eggs benedict - that much butter in the morning always makes me feel a bit queezy, but not this time! Nicely done! I liked them so much, I ordered them again, the next time I went back.
Service at Shire is nice and friendly and very prompt, no hassles with waiting too long for my food or tea, or anything like that. All in all, a very nice place and one that I'm glad I got a seat at.
Did I mention their floor is made from an old bowling alley? Now all you trendies and hipsters can have an excuse to wear your $300 Campers bowling shoes to breakfast.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Wikipedia says that disappointment is the feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations to manifest.
Never have I been as disappointed as when I visited Pearl Cafe.
I had been waiting months for Pearl Cafe to open, as apparently they had lots of problems with opening, so it was delayed for quite some time after the originally announced date of opening.
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, Pearl restaurant, it's in my top 3 favourite Melbourne restaurants, so with the news of Pearl Cafe opening and the return of their famous breakfasts, it's fair to say that I was excited!
The first time I visited Pearl Cafe for breakfast, I was instantly hit with disappointment and I hadn't even been served my meal yet. It turns out that they stop serving breakfast at 11am and we arrived right on 11! So at 11am, we had to order from the lunch menu. What is this, McDonalds? What sort of place in inner city Melbourne, especially one as respected as Pearl, doesn't serve all day breakfast - or at least breakfast until 2 or 3? I think the reason behind this, is the fact that as far as I'm aware, most of the food is prepared down the road at the actual Pearl restaurant and just headed onsite at the cafe. I know this because I saw a guy wheeling a tray of coddled eggs down the street as I was leaving.
So, that day I ended up ordering a somewhat dry and very average Macaroni and Cheese for what I guess you would call brunch. If it was my cafe, I wouldn't be putting this on the menu, if it was served everyday like this. Unless, I just got it on a bad day.
A few weeks later I returned (early this time!) for breakfast. At the Pearl restaurant, when they used to serve breakfast, they used to serve this amazing coddled egg on a cube of toasted bread, with Y.V. Salmon Roe. Delicious. So, when I saw coddled eggs on the menu again - I was quick to order. There are a few different options of Coddled Eggs on the menu, I went with the Coddled Eggs with wild and picked mushrooms.
The eggs were delivered tome at my seat at the big communal table in a little ceramic pot used especially for egg coddling. Let me describe the eggs to you. On top, they were still clear and very raw. At the bottom they were very overcooked and solid. Amongst the dry and uncooked egg was a single field mushroom - which could have very well have been handpicked from Coles down the road. There were no wild mushroom in my coddled eggs! The person I was with, couldn't believe I was actually eating what I was served. You know what? Thinking about it now, either can I.
If the food is always this bad coming out of this place - this is going to tarnish Pearl's good name - it has to. If people go there to try the cheaper version before they try the real thing - they're definately not going to try the real thing - i know I wouldn't have.
Oh, another thing - their tea strainers are woven like a little cane basket, they look very nifty, but they don't strain anything!! There are gaps in the weaving and your tea leaves run through. As Rove would say.... What the??
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I've lived in Fitzroy for the last 6 years - just around the corner from ICI and somehow I've successfully managed to avoid visiting this place for that whole time. From outside there's nothing inviting about it- a few seats outside and a very small cafe inside, with again very few seats.
There are always people at ICI though, which is apparently a popular haunt for the locals.
Unfortunately for us, my mate wanted to give ICI a go last weekend and offered to pay for my breakfast, so who was I to complain?
No free tables inside or outside. So, we were forced to be those annoying people that stand around watching other people eat, waiting for them to leave. 10 minutes later we got a seat outside. Another 10 minutes later, the waitress decided she was going to finally clean our table of the last people's mess.
Another 10 minutes later a waiter appeared to take our drink orders and advised us, we'd need to go inside to look at the blackboard for the menu. How hard is it to print up some paper menus for people sitting outside? Damn Fitzroy hippies, not wanting to waste paper!
15 minutes after we ordered, one of my friend's Scrambled eggs and toast arrived - this was obviously first, because it was easiest and didn't have any sides like the rest of us.
It wasn't for another 10 minutes at least before the rest of our breakfasts arrived. This is poor form for any cafe or restaurant. Everyone should be served together in my book.
Presentation obviously isn't a factor at ICI, everything is banged on the plate with minimal care and it seems to barely fit on the plate.
Apart from all that - the food is actually half decent. The eggs were nicely poached, the tomato chilli jam had a nice kick and the bacon tasted like bacon.
If you're sitting outside, also watch for the seeds from the trees above blowing into your food. It happened to us, not very cool, but I guess there's not much the cafe can do about it. There's plenty they can do about their service though. Attempting to order more drinks when we finished our food proved hopeless.
If you want to lounge around in the back streets of Fitzroy and act like a local - there are better places to do it than ICI, I'd suggest Minlokal, just around the corner.
Monday, September 15, 2008
With the nice weather suddenly coming back to town, I thought it was time for an interesting lighter lunch, full of flavour. i found this recipe on a BBC website from the UK. It's actually a Bill Granger though - the king of lightness and simplicity (I'm talking about his food, of course!)
This is a really simple recipe and you don't need to be an amazing cook to whip this one together in no time. My only tip would be to make sure you only cook the scallops for 1 minute on each side on a hot frypan. Any longer and you will overcook them - making them chewy.
60g plain flour
125ml soda water
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
235g grated carrot
8 spring onions, finely sliced
25g chopped coriander
60ml vegetable oil
12 medium-sized scallops, roe removed
2 tbsp olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
watercress, to serve
For Yoghurt Dressing:
125g plain yoghurt
1 tbs lime juice
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbs olive oil
1. Place the flour, soda water, egg, cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt in a bowl and mix well. Add the chilli, carrot, spring onion and coriander and stir to combine.
2. Heat frying pan, add oil & heat until hot. Cooking in batches, add two tablespoons of batter per fritter and cook for two minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Cook the remaining fritter batter, adding extra oil if necessary. Place the fritters on an ovenproof plate lined with paper towels and keep warm.
3. Place the scallops in a bowl, add olive oil, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium-to-high heat and cook the scallops for no more than one minute on each side.
4. For the yoghurt dressing, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine.
5. Place three carrot fritters on each plate, top with the watercress and scallops and drizzle with the yoghurt dressing. Season with pepper and serve.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
We arrived at the Williams Rd, Windsor location and I was surprised to not see a shopfront type restaurant, but instead a typical Toorak style Mansion, which most Melbournian's would know what I'm talking about.
We were greeted at the door by three elegantly dressed waiters. The best way I can describe them is if you've seen that episode of The Simpsons where the waiter has the argument with the Mayor's son about the pronunciation of the word 'chowder'. The waiters very much resembled that character. The spiffy suit, the slick hair and one even had the very cliche' little French moustache. Our main waiter for the evening had a very radio/car-salesman-esque voice where everything he spoke to us about, sounded like he was performing a voice over. If only I could show you a photo of him. (Actually... I found one on The Age website)
....only when the waiter saw my camera (still in it's case) he very politely advised that the chef did not allow restaurant visitors to take photos of their food. Apparently there are these things out there called 'blogs' and people take photos and post them on their blog and write reviews about restaurants. Really?? Who knew?? The waiter mentioned that the chef thinks that most of these photos look rubbish and are a poor representation of the food, so they don't allow photos of the food. But apparently, the chef is happy to make a booking with you, if you're a photographer and you can come down during the day and take photos of the food. Somehow, I don't think that is going to happen.
Ah well. Rather than sit through an entire degustation menu, and attempt to take photos of the food, this time I could just sit there and enjoy the food and the service. The degustation menu is 7 courses, which the chef decides on for you. There's no list or menu to tell you what you're having, you just make sure you tell the waiter if there's something you don't like or don't eat and they will accommodate.
First up was a Crayfish and Pork Dumpling (Ravioli) with a Dashi Broth and Topped with shredded and oven dried apple. What a wonderful start! I'd never had Crayfish before this. So, nice- yet not very French, I would say more Japanese.
Second course was a bit of a jumble of flavours. There was Ocean Trout Sushimi, Duck Breast, Water Cress and Foie Gras. Well, I know Duck and Sushimi is very Japanese , but we did have some Foie Gras on here. I'd never tried Foie Gras before tonight, probably for two reasons- one because it's so expensive and the other because a lot of people believe the process for making Foie Gras is cruel. But that's another story. It tastes, like a cross between a very rich pate' and butter. It also has the texture of a soft butter.
Third Plate was Hiramasa King fish, with (from memory) a skin of miso and a buttery sauce. The fish was a very small fillet, which was standing upright on the plate. It was very attractive and the colours looked delicious. We were even given very special cutlery for the fish. Apparently the only real difference to the fish knife and fork though is the fact there is a little knick taken out of the side of each.
Fourth plate was a very rare slice of Venison, which was only briefly seared on the outside. It came with a extremely thick and sticky beetroot and red wine jus and was served on cauliflower florets in a delicious white sauce. I'm a big fan of Venison and this one was done particularly well. Very, very tender and so flavoursome. Perfect with the sweet beetroot reduction.
Fifth plate was what I would consider our main meal. Apparently there was a choice of Lamb Cutlets and Veal, but as there were two of us, we were just given one of each. For a place that prides itself on customer service, it would have been nice to have been given the option here.
The Lamb again was cooked very rare and seemed only just seared. I know Lamb isn't meant to be cooked right through and still be slightly pink, but even I would have considered this a little under-done. The lamb was served with a savoury Pistachio foam, which was another new experience for me - I've never tried a 'foam' before and I have to say I like the idea of it and love the taste and texture. My friend had the Veal, which was poached in Milk and was also served with a Milk foam over the top - kind of a 'baby cow cappacino!'
Sixth Plate was a cheese course. It was a delicious South Australian Goat's Cheese, wrapped in a vine leaf from the farm where the cheese comes from. There was also a little mound of salad and 3 pieces of walnut - generous! The cheese was very tasty indeed and was just the thing I needed at this point in the degustation.
For the seventh and final main plate, we had our dessert course. Dessert was served in a 1990's-esque tubular vase type contraption which was lying on it's side. You needed a long spoon to get in there and get out the food. It did look very pretty though. It was a layering of flavours and textures. On the bottom was crushed nougatine, which was more of a biscuit like texture than the chewyness I expected. On top of this was a scoop of an amazing Oregano and Mint ice-cream! Who would have thought to put Oregano in an ice-cream? These guys did and it was fantastic! The Oregano was not overpowering at all, like I thought it would be. Laid over this was a slice of peppermint marshmallow. Very subtle flavour and texture. And on top of it all was an extremely strong coffee foam, almost like having a Short Macchiato!
Finally, with our tea and coffee we were given a lovely looking plate of Petit Fours, which the kitchen had written a nice, little happy birthday message across the top in chocolate. I managed to sneak a photo of this one on my mobile phone.
Jacques Raymond overall was a fantastic experience. Everything was pretty much perfect, from the service, to the ambience, to the decor, to of course the food and even the gent's toilets were pretty snazzy. Dinner there isn't cheap though by any means. For the two of us, the bill totalled over $400! That includes four imported beers. I thouroughly believe though at most restaurants that you get what you pay for and on this occasion, you're paying for perfection and perfection always comes at a cost. I'm just glad that on this occasion, perfection was my birthday present!
* Unfortunately, as I usually use my photos as a reference to remember exactly what we ate, this time i'm just going from memory, so my descriptions may not be 100% accurate. If the restaurant would like to correct me though, they are most welcome to contact me to do so.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
During my week in Sydney, went back here two more times. The food here is fresh, hearty and served with pleasant and helpful service.
On my first visit I ordered French Toast with Bacon, Maple Syrup and Fruit Salad. It sounds strange, but tastes delicious! The fruit salad is fresh, the bread is thick, the bacon is salty and the maple syrup's sweetness balances it all out. Delicious. This is actually what I ate again on my third visit.
My second visit I had the Corn Cakes. Made with Sweet Corn and with some crispy Bacon on the side. The Corn Cakes are not so much cakey, they are light and almost fritter like. There's a good ratio of Corn pieces to give the Cakes a good bit of texture.
My friend had vegie options on the two visits to The First Drop that she came to - one was Mushrooms with Fetta on Toast and the other was a vegie breakfast with Avocado, Ricotta, and Tomato, both apparently delicious!
If you're brave enough to venture into downtown Redfern, give this place a shot - I'm a big fan and I bet you will be too!
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Wasabi Mash is a great accompaniment to the shanks and with this amount, is by no means hot or spicy, but you just get a hint of that Wasabi flavour.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 2 tbs plain flour
- 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
- 4 lamb shanks, Frenched
- 40ml (2 tbs) olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 small red chilli, seeds removed, finely sliced
- 1L (4 cups) beef stock
- 40ml (2 tbs) red wine vinegar
- 40ml (2 tbs) oyster sauce
- 20ml (1 tbs) soy sauce
- 1 tsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp Szechuan pepper, crushed
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tsp cornflour
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Combine the flour and five-spice, then roll shanks in the seasoned flour. Heat the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish over medium heat. Add the shanks and brown on all sides, then transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Add the onion, garlic and chilli to the pan and cook for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften. Add the stock, vinegar, sauces, spices and lamb.
- Bring to the boil, then cover and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and strain sauce into a saucepan. Transfer shanks to a plate.
- Combine cornflour with a little cold water, stir into the sauce and bring to the boil. Cook until thickened, then pour over shanks. Serve lamb shanks with wasabi mash (see related recipe).
These cup cakes are so simple to make- basically you just whiz everything up in a food processor and you're ready to bake.
I have to say, these cupcakes are probably the best cakes I have ever made! I really fell in love with the sweet pumpkin cake and the zesty, sour cream icing. Give them a try!
For the muffins
- 400g butternut pumpkin, skin on, deseeded and roughly chopped
- 350g light soft brown sugar
- 4 large free-range or organic eggs
- Sea salt
- 300g plain flour, unsifted
- 2 heaped teaspoons of baking powder
- A handful of walnuts
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 175ml of extra virgin olive oil
For the frosted cream topping
- Zest of 1 Orange
- Zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½ a lemon
- 140ml of soured cream
- 2 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar, sifted
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and seeds scraped out
- Optional: lavender flowers or rose petals
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Line your muffin tins with paper cases.
2. Whiz the Pumpkin in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the sugar, and crack in the eggs. Add a pinch of salt, the flour, baking powder, walnuts, cinnamon and olive oil and whiz together until well beaten. You may need to pause the machine at some point to scrape the mix down the sides with a rubber spatula. Try not to overdo it with the mixing - you want to just combine everything and no more.
3. Fill the paper cases with the cake mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Check to see whether they are cooked properly by sticking a wooden skewer or a knife right into one of the cakes - if it comes out clean, they’re done. If it's a bit sticky, pop them back into the oven for a little longer. Remove from the oven and leave the cakes to cool on a wire rack.
4. As soon as the muffins are in the oven, make your runny frosted topping. Place most of the Orange zest, all the lemon zest and the lemon juice in a bowl. Add the soured cream, icing sugar and vanilla seeds and mix well. Taste and have a think about it - adjust the amount of lemon juice or icing sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Put into the fridge until your cakes have cooled down, then spoon the topping on to the cakes. Serve on a lovely plate, with the rest of the Orange zest sprinkled over. For an interesting flavour and look, a few dried lavender flowers or rose petals are fantastic.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
If I had to pick a style of cooking that I do best, I would probably say it's Italian. It's the first style of food that I learnt how to cook and it's probably the style I understand the most. For this reason, I'm always interested to try an Italian place that makes great, authentic food. I'd heard a lot about Cafe Di Stasio for a long time, but as I knew the prices there are on the higher end of the scale, I put off visiting there. That was until the other day when I had a day off work and my friend suggested we go and check out the Cafe Di Stasio Lunch special. The lunch special is your Melbourne standard two courses and a glass of wine for $30.
Di Stasio is located on St Kilda's Fitzroy Street, right in the heart of the action. From inside however, with the shutters tilted, you would be completely unaware of the hustle and bustle outside the window. The restaurants tables seem packed in to the relatively small L shaped room. The walls are stricken with horrible mime-like face masks which are used as light holders, I don't know what they were thinking!
I ordered the Spaghetti with Tuna and Tomato as an entree. The portion was extremely small, especially in comparison to the oversized bowl it was served in. The spaghetti was definately on the undercooked side of al dente and could have done with an extra minute or two on the stove.
The tuna sauce was tasty though, with just the right amount of Tomato mixed through.
For Main Course, i ordered the Chicken Cacciatore. This was a much better example of classic Italian cuisine and was actually quite delicious, however, once again, the serving was undersized and I probably should have listened to the waiter's recommendations of ordering a side dish. The chicken was tender and the sauce was rich and tasty.
The waiters at Di Stasio are the first waiters I've come across in Melbourne that wear outfits that basically look like tuxedos. It seems very over the top, especially when the service doesn't match up to their dress standards. There was no service with a smile and our empty glasses of water got about as much attention as we did.
I always think that a good lunch special is a great indication as to whether you should go back to a restaurant for dinner and pay full price. Considering the high prices at Di Stasio and the fact that they failed to impress us at lunchtime, I don't think we will be returning anytime soon. The food is very simple and iwhat we had was nothing that even someone with minimal cooking experience could cook in their own home.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Over a year ago, the guys at The Commoner posted a note on this blog asking me to drop in and check out their place. I guess in the hope that I'd come in and review their recently opened business. Even though the place is about two blocks from my house, I never made it. Until about a month ago that is. You know what? I'm now kicking myself, that I left it so long! I have found myself probably one of the best breakky places around and it's right on my doorstep!
The Commoner is literally next door to the over 30's bar The One Twenty Bar, on Johnston St and is housed in what appears to be a small, old retail building.
The room is decorated with cute little nic-nacs which look like they've been found from around various op shops. The room has a slightly old skool country vibe, which I love- especially in the heart of Fitzroy!
I ordered the Arabic Pancake with Roasted Black Plums and Yoghurt ($14). I thought that the pancake was going to be some fancy Arab spiced pancake, but from what I could tell, it wasn't. It was what goes on top of the pancake that is Arab inspired. Gorgeous sweet, but slightly bitter, deep red plums and delicious yoghurt to balance out any richness from the plums. So good. You only get one pancake on the plate, but it's just enough.
Now to the service. I visited on a day, which was forecast to be 40c and by 9am, it was already bloody hot outside. The lovely waitress offered me a big plate of chilled Watermelon to finish my breakfast, saying "it's going to be a hot one today, here's some watermelon to help get you through." What can I say, but WOW! I mean, it's a bloody plate of water melon, that would probably cost them 30 cents, but it's great little things like that, that makes you fall in love with a place and makes you want to keep coming back!
I had a look at the rest of the menu, as they do lunch (obviously) and dinner as well. The menu reads like it has been put together by a real Melbourne inspired foodie and I can't wait to get back down there and check out some dinner options.
The one bad point about this place? Well, it's not really their fault, but apparently it was reviewed in The Age last week, which means it's going to be packed and hard to get a seat! Good for them... not so good for me.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Cherry tomatoes 350g
Garlic clove 1
Basil leaves 3tbs
Ex. V. olive oil 1tbs
1. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the juice and seeds. Peel and chop the garlic finely. Grate the Parmesan. Wash the basil.
2. Combine the tomatoes and garlic, season, add the oil and toss to combine. Let marinate for 15 minutes. Put the ricotta in a bowl, season and stir.
3. Cook the orecchiette in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain.
4. Gently heat the tomato mixture and add the drained orechiette, stirring gently to combine. Finally stir in the ricotta.
Serve with Parmesan.
While I'm on the Jamie Oliver vibe, here's another one from his latest book. I actually started making a very similar recipe to this one over 10 years ago, simply because, as much as I love Carbonara sauces, there's not much goodness in there for you and too be honest with all that Bacon, Egg Yolk and Cream, it can be quite fatty. So, instead of just using Zucchini, like Jamie has below, I also like to add some Squash in there (not the pumpkin kind) and maybe even some Yellow Capsicum. The secret to making this dish great, is using some really good free range eggs and bacon. You'll find that you can get free range bacon at your supermarkets now like Coles and Safeway, in the fridge section- a good one is made by KR. Remember, it's just as important to buy free range bacon and pork products as it is eggs and chicken!
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 medium green and yellow courgettes
- 500g penne
- 4 large free-range or organic egg yolks
- 100ml double cream
- 2 good handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- olive oil
- 12 thick slices of pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, cut into chunky lardons
- a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped, flowers reserved (if you can get hold of flowering thyme)
1. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Halve and then quarter any larger courgettes lengthways. Cut out and discard any fluffy middle bits, and slice the courgettes at an angle into pieces roughly the same size and shape as the penne. Smaller courgettes can simply be sliced finely. Your water will now be boiling, so add the penne to the pan and cook according to the packet instructions.
2. To make your creamy carbonara sauce, put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the cream and half the Parmesan, and mix together with a fork. Season lightly and put to one side.
3. Heat a very large frying pan (a 35cm one is a good start – every house should have one!), add a good splash of olive oil and fry the pancetta or bacon until dark brown and crisp. Add the courgette slices and 2 big pinches of black pepper, not just to season but to give it a bit of a kick. Sprinkle in the thyme leaves, give everything a stir, so the courgettes become coated with all the lovely bacon-flavoured oil, and fry until they start to turn lightly golden and have softened slightly.
4. It’s very important to get this next bit right or your carbonara could end up ruined. You need to work quickly. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water. Immediately, toss the pasta in the pan with the courgettes, bacon and lovely flavours, then remove from the heat and add a ladleful of the reserved cooking water and your creamy sauce. Stir together quickly. (No more cooking now, otherwise you’ll scramble the eggs.)
5. Get everyone around the table, ready to eat straight away. While you’re tossing the pasta and sauce, sprinkle in the rest of the Parmesan and a little more of the cooking water if needed, to give you a silky and shiny sauce. Taste quickly for seasoning. If you’ve managed to get any courgette flowers, tear them over the top, then serve and eat immediately, as the sauce can become thick and stodgy if left too long.
Friday, March 07, 2008
You could probably feed about 8 people with this Meringue. For a family of four, you could probably halve the recipe, you might need to adjust the cooking times though.
4 large free-range or organic egg whites
1 1/4 cups raw sugar
Pinch sea salt
100 grams hazelnuts, skins removed
2 400g cans halved pears, in syrup
2 pieces stem ginger, thinly sliced, optional
200g dark chocolate (minimum 70 percent cocoa solids)
400ml double cream
50g icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped out
1 orange, zested
Preheat your oven to 150c and line a baking sheet with a sheet of waxed paper.
Put your egg whites into a squeaky clean bowl, making sure there are absolutely no little pieces of egg shell or egg yolk in them. Whisk on medium until the whites form firm peaks. With your mixer still running, gradually add the sugar and the pinch of salt. Turn the mixer up to the highest setting and whisk for about 7 or 8 minutes, until the meringue mixture is white and glossy. To test whether it's done you can pinch some between your fingers - if it feels completely smooth it's ready; if it's slightly granular it needs a little more whisking.
Dot each corner of the waxed paper with a blob of meringue, then turn it over and stick it to the baking sheet. Spoon the meringue out onto the paper. Using the back of a spoon, shape and swirl it into a rectangle. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 1 hour or until crisp on the outside and a little soft and sticky inside. At the same time, bake the hazelnuts on a separate sheet in the oven for 1 hour or until golden brown.
Drain the cans of pears, reserving the syrup from 1 can. Cut each pear half into 3 slices. Pour the pear syrup into a saucepan with the ginger, if using, and warm gently over a medium heat until it starts to simmer. Take off the heat and snap the chocolate into the saucepan, stirring with a spoon until it's all melted.
Take the meringue and hazelnuts out of the oven and leave to cool. Place the meringue on a nice rustic board or platter. Whip the cream with the sifted icing sugar and the vanilla seeds until it forms smooth, soft peaks. Smash the toasted hazelnuts (in a kitchen towel) and sprinkle half of them over the top of the meringue. Spoon half the whipped cream over the top and drizzle with some of the chocolate sauce (if the sauce has firmed up, melt it slightly by holding the saucepan over a large pan of boiling water). Divide most of the pear pieces evenly over the top. Pile over the rest of the whipped cream and pears. Drizzle with some more chocolate sauce, then sprinkle over the remaining toasted hazelnuts with some grated orange zest. Serve straightaway. If you're making this in advance, get everything ready and assemble at the last minute.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Bottega is located between two of this ciy's most well known Italian eateries, one being Pellegrini's and the other being Grossi Florentino - so as you would expect, Bottega has a lot to live up to.
Now, I know that the whole idea is an 'Express' Lunch, but the service at Bottega seemed very rushed and un-personable. I don't know if it simply was because we had ordered from the 'cheapy' menu, or if the service here is generally lacking friendliness.
The food however was exceptional, however the portions were quite small. Again, probably due to us ordering from the Express menu. I hate spending $30 on a lunch and leaving the place wanting to grab a sandwich.
I started with the Carpaccio of house cured duck breast, with fresh figs, goat's cheese and vincotto. This was the first time I'd ever had Cured duck breast. It was delicious. It was like mini strips of prosciutto, but less salty and not quite as chewy. The breast was perfectly matched with the wonderful fresh figs and soft tangy goats cheese.
Mains was Western Plains Pork Rotolo with Sage and Burnt Butter. The pasta was slightly dry on top, not sure if this was because it was grilled under a salamander grill or left under the pass lights for too long. Apart from that, the dish was so tasty! The pork was cooked down until it was completely tender. The pasta was also lovely, smooth and not chewy.
My friend had a dessert instead of an entree, which was the Cannolli of ricotta, hazlenuts and chocolate candied orange with bitter chocolate ice-cream. Considering that the plate was cleaned in a couple of minutes, I assume it tasted pretty good!
An Express Lunch is the perfect way for people to check out a restaurant, which they may not usually go to. If they like it, they'll tell their friends and come back. Not bad advertising, however, if it's no good- you're shooting yourself in the foot. I myself loved the food and was very impressed, but the service, while it was not rude wasn't particularly friendly. Italians are known for their love of food and welcoming people into their homes to share food. Unfortunately, we didn't feel completely welcome here - but like I said, the food was great!
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The restaurant is quite small, but comes with all the trimmings; crisp white table cloths, fabric napkins, shiny new cutlery and modern, posh artwork on the walls. The first thing we noticed was that the restaurant was very quiet, so found that we had to keep our voices down so that we didn't share our conversations with the rest of the room. From one extreme to another, the silence in the room didn't last long, the private function which was going on upstairs kicked into gear and the shouting and cheering from above destroyed any ambiance going on in our room for the rest of the night.
The menu was very Mediterranean as you'd expect with a name like Estivo, but there was also some Asian influenced dishes in there like Crispy Pork Belly with Nam Jim. The waiter advised us that there were a couple of changes to the menu this evening and some dishes had changed. Eg. The Gnocchi in one dish had been replaced with Spagettini, which happened to be the Main that I ordered.
The service started off very professional offering all the right things, pre-dinner drinks, napkins on laps, extra cutlery where required, but seemed to lack a sense of friendliness and personalisation. I queried with the waiter what was on the Tapas tasting plate, but he was unsure and had to check with the kitchen. Not quite what I would expect, when you're paying these prices.
After confirmation of what was on the Tapas plate, I ordered the plate as my Entree. The standout tastes were the deliciously fresh oyster with a sweet Tomato, Salsa type dressing. As well as the gorgeous Quail served on some perfectly cooked Eggplant. My Entree was great and hopefully a sign of things to come.
As it happened, the Main that I ordered was the Gnocchi dish, which as the waiter explained, came with Spagettini instead. It was Pork and Veal Meatballs, with Peas, Hazlenuts and chickpeas. My meal arrived, only it didn't look like what I'd ordered. It was Spagettini, tossed in a Tomato Sauce with Mussels and Prawns. I explained to the waiter that this wasn't what we had ordered and that we ordered the Meatball pasta. This waiter, different from the one that took our order, told us that, that dish wasn't actually on the menu this evening and that the chef would have to make it up for us, so it might take a while. The original waiter hadn't told us it wasn't on the menu, only that the Gnocchi had been replaced by Spaghettini.
After about 10 minutes and everyone else had pretty much finished their meals, those of us that ordered the 'gnocchi' finally had our meals arrive. Only to discover that there was still no Spaghettini- but the original Gnocchi, which apparently was off the menu! The waiter explained that the confusion came from the fact that the Chef had taken the dish off the menu, because he hadn't refined it to his liking and he wasn't happy with the dish just yet. Now, the reason I ordered the Spaghettini dish, was because it wasn't Gnocchi- I don't like restaurant Gnocchi. I'm happy to make it at home, but I've never been to a restaurant which makes it as light as I like it. This was no exception. In this case, it wasn't just the Gnocchi I wasn't a fan of, but the overall dish.
The Green Peas didn't have any freshness about them and had the same texture as the Chickpeas, dry and slightly chewy. I also frown upon the fact that this dish had so many ingredients of the same size and shape, such as the Peas, Halzenuts and Chickpeas. None of these ingredients were working together for me, the dish was under-seasoned, the Parsley leaves that were mixed through were huge, over powering and the Veal Sausage meatballs were chewy! The Chef was right not to keep this dish on the menu and I wished I had of kept the original plate that was bought out to me, which looked a lot tastier than what I got in the end.
I have to say though, that the second waiter did apologise for the error and only charged us for an entree size dish, rather than the main to make up for the mix up, which made things a bit better.
I should make a point that everyone else (everyone that didn't have the Gnocchi) was very happy with their meals and they were all presented very well. The Steak meal looked delicious, as did the Lamb.
Onto dessert. I had a Vahlrona Chocolate Tart, served with a Poached Peach and Rosewater Cream. The Tart was very soft, but probably not 'Chocolatey' enough for my liking. The Rosewater cream however, was completely out of place in this dessert, too much rosewater had been added and was completely over-powering. Without the cream, I was very happy with this dessert.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I saw Jamie Oliver do this recipe on his new show, where he has the insanely big garden, huge house and best of all, a massive woodfired oven!
I love the idea of food with a twist and mixing ingredients together that seem a little unusual. This salad has definately got that vibe. Although it might sound a little strange to have strawberries in a salad, the taste is actually really (for lack of a better word) 'zingy'.
My local deli didn't have any Speck, but I'm sure you could find it in Melbourne if you looked hard enough- so I used some nice thin Prosciutto instead. Make sure you use some good Balsamic vinegar for this recipe, otherwise the final product will be rubbish. My favourite is from Simon and Johnson, which is about $20 a bottle- but lasts for ages and is definately worth it for the taste.
In a bowl, drizzle the sliced strawberries with a good splash of balsamic vinegar, the lemon juice and some extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. This will draw out and flavour the lovely strawberry juices.
Preheat a large non-stick frying-pan to medium hot and add a splash of olive oil. Press a basil leaf on to each slice of halloumi. Place the slices, leaf side down, in the frying-pan and fry for a minute. Turn over carefully and fry for another minute until the halloumi is light golden and crisp.
Get yourself four plates and place a couple of pieces of the crispy halloumi on each. Put the mint, the rest of the basil leaves and the salad leaves into the bowl with the strawberries and toss together. Pile some of the strawberry mixture in the middle of each plate and drape the speck over the top. Finish with more salad leaves. To serve, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.